By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

The New York Rangers planned for an epic pride night for their game against the Las Vegas Golden Knights on Friday, January 27th. The ticket sales promised that the players would wear special pride night jerseys, during warm ups, use sticks with rainbow tape among other displays of LGBTQ+ diversity and rainbows.

But, when it came time for the Rangers to take the ice, none of it was to be seen. No rainbows, no jerseys, no stick tape, nothing. Leaving LGBTQ+ fans who paid extra money for the price inflated tickets confused as to whether they were at the wrong night, or if they were even welcome there at all.

As the game went underway, Madison Square Garden as a venue was there to remind everybody it was Pride Night and some events still occurred, included a giveaway of pride themed fanny packs, rainbow light displays and a charitable donation was made to the Ali Forney Center, the largest organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ homeless youth. However, the lack of participation from the Rangers themselves struck a bit of a chord among LGBTQ+ fans.

The Pride Night was the Rangers’ 7th annual event, and no hesitancy was ever displayed in the past about wearing jerseys, using rainbow type or other type of displays. However, this year it seems the decision was last minute and surprised members of NYC Pride who had long been part of the celebrations. Andre Thomas, co-chair of NYC Pride who participated in the ceremonial puck drop shared his thoughts with ESPN on the issue.

“In recent years, numerous National Hockey League (NHL) franchises including the New York Rangers have introduced a series of ‘Pride Nights’ to engage the LGBTQ+ community. “ 

NYC Pride has been honored to take part in these celebrations, including as recently as last night at Madison Square Garden. NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised. We understand and appreciate that this has been a major disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community in New York and beyond. “

We are communicating these concerns with NY Rangers and NHL leadership as we continue to discuss the ways these organizations can work toward inclusion. NYC Pride has a duty to both support our partners and hold them accountable. We are committed to continuing our relationships with the NY Rangers and the NHL and maintaining substantive dialogue with them about meaningful allyship with the LGBTQ+ community.” 

The move comes a week after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman, Ivan Provorov sat out of the pregame skate during the Flyers’ Pride Night, claiming it violated his religious principles to take part. The NHL followed up with a statement clarifying that players can decide which team and league initiatives to support.

“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the League encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans,” the league said in its statement to ESPN. “Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”

For their part, the Rangers released a statement regarding their Pride Night.

“Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”

Yet despite these statements, LGBTQ+ fans and supporters can’t help but worry that the progress made toward LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation in professional sports leagues like the NHL are starting to backslide in trend with the recent rise of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence in the US. Only time will tell.

Photo Credit: Ajay_Suresh via Flickr